Kou (cordia subcordata)

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“Hui aku nā maka i Kou; The faces will meet in Kou.” – ʻŌlelo Noʻeau 1128

Photo: Delicate orange pua of kumulāʻau kou
Delicate orange pua of kumulāʻau kou are strung into lei. – Photos: Bobby Camara

Kou, an old name for today’s Honolulu Harbor and adjacent downtown area, was where people from everywhere gathered to watch chiefs play games like kōnane and ʻulu maika.

Kou is also the name of a native tree. Kou seed pods 5,000 years old were discovered in Makauwahi cave on Kauaʻi in the 1990s, demonstrating that the tree is native to Hawaiʻi Nei.

Kou wood is beautiful and was favored for making ʻumeke (bowls, containers). Kou grows quickly and is widely planted in cityscapes. Its ruffled unscented orange pua are easily strung on ʻili hau to fashion cherished lei, while weathered corky pods can be smoothed and used to stamp kapa.